July 28, 1914 – Austria Declares War

In Vienna one hundred years ago today, Austria-Hungary declares war on the recalcitrant Kingdom of Serbia. Exactly one month has passed since the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but events are only just now spinning out of control. No longer restraining his most bellicose generals, but rather being pushed along by them towards war, the Kaiser has pushed his Hapsburg peer to conclude his empire’s failed diplomatic efforts.

The name of General Nikolai Janushkevitch, Russia’s Chief of Staff, has almost been lost to history. Described as a glorified clerk, Janushkevitch has never commanded a unit larger than a company in the field, and is poorly cut-out for his job. Yet we can pin at least some of the blame for the Great War’s outbreak on this high-flown nobody, for it is he who decides that the order for partial mobilization that Tsar Nicholas II wanted is not good enough, for once the Austrians and Germans know about it, they will both mobilize their own armies. Drawing up a second order for full mobilization, Janushkevitch plans to present the Tsar with both orders, and informs all of the empire’s military districts to expect full mobilization orders on the 30th.

Events have slipped from anyone’s control now. The Great War did not have to happen; it was not inevitable, but the fire that consumes Europe has now been lit.